Honors Team Adapt shares their strategies for successful teaming
“Despite a pandemic and a necessary pivot, we are proud of the impact our Honors project was able to have this year.”
Team Adapt launched their Honors team in Fall 2019 and originally intended to design adaptable clothing for older adults, partnering with Elder Care Alliance (ECA), a Bay Area senior-living organization. However, in March 2020, the team made the critical decision to pivot their project to help create emergency personal protective equipment (PPE) for at-risk eldercare workers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, the team has spearheaded the creation of over 300 reusable gowns, as well as published their “Adapt Gowns Playbook,” designed for senior living facilities to provide personal protective equipment to their workers and at-risk individuals.
Here, Team Adapt members Shirley Jiang, Yoyo Ko, Vivian Hong, Josie Lee, Romina Mazooji, share the four strategies that they attribute to their success in teaming:
- Utilize personal strengths and create structure while ensuring team-wide foundational understanding
- Center team communication, especially during time of uncertainty
- Identify and test assumptions through rapid prototyping
- Share out — make your work available for others to iterate upon and improve
Strategy #1: Utilize personal strengths and create structure while ensuring team-wide foundational understanding
“The Fung Fellowship’s motto is that you are #morethanyourmajor. This means we support our cumulative life and academic experiences that we bring to spaces and are not confined to our majors. On any of the teams you are on as a fellow, you are encouraged (and sometimes required) to participate in all aspects of the work, from project management to prototyping. On top of that, we do all of this work on flat teams, meaning that there is no structural hierarchy.
This comes with a lot of opportunities! But it can be inefficient or confusing when there aren’t clear “lanes” for individuals in our team to stick to. We realized that we could all be #morethanourmajors while still creating some structure within our team, based on our personal strengths.
We all wanted to have a foundational understanding of 1) What it takes to make the project run, and 2) Who it is that we were designing for. Therefore, we specialized our structure after we all had the opportunity to conduct primary user research and taking a turn leading a design sprint.
Rather than choosing roles by looking at our previous work history or majors, we decided to ask each of ourselves:
 Where do I see myself growing over the year?
 What do I procrastinate least?
After doing this, it was pretty clear where we could all individually shine. From spearheading physical prototyping and leading external communications, to owning user engagement and testing strategy, or managing our team finances, there were opportunities for each of us to specialize and dig deep.
Strategy #2: Center team communication, especially during time of uncertainty
Strong communication was at the core of our work. The Fung Fellowship brings students together from all different majors and backgrounds, so figuring out how to speak the same language is crucial.
One way we achieved this was through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) workshop sponsored by the Fung Institute. MBTI is a tool that we used to understand how we all worked, planned, and communicated individually. The institute also offered meetings with a certified MBTI trainer, Alex Beliaev, to facilitate a conversation about how all of our individual “types” worked as team. The idea is that people have natural preferences for certain work or communication styles, but can “flex” or grow in areas beyond their natural preference.
Having this framework greatly helped us. After these trainings we were much quicker to delegate tasks based on our natural preferences, and communicate if and when certain work seemed like too much of a flex.
The other language we all had to speak was the language of our user. This proved a bit more challenging. We conducted over 60 ethnographies, one-on-ones, and guerrilla interviews to understand the pain-points of this user group.
After our first round of research, we conducted brainstorming activities, ideated on three prototypes, and tested those prototypes. However, by the time we wanted to iterate and refine our ideas, we were faced with the lockdown due to the pandemic and ECA’s request to create personal protective equipment (PPE). This led us to pivot and restart the secondary research process in order to design a system to effectively distribute fabric kits for volunteer sewers.
Pivoting as a team comes with many uncertainties and challenges including time and energy. In many ways, it may seem like starting from ground zero. However, the reason why we were able to pivot so quickly into solving the pandemic response was because we had spent the previous four months working hard on our team communication. So even though we were uncertain about the specifics of our new problem area, we were not uncertain about how to best communicate and collaborate with each other.
“However, the reason why we were able to pivot so quickly into solving the pandemic response was because we had spent the previous four months working hard on our team communication.”
Strategy #3: Identify and test assumptions through rapid prototyping
If there was ever an assumption that we could not validate through communication, we relied on rapid prototyping and testing.
For example, one issue we had in our project process was clarifying our User-Buyer-Beneficiary framework. Informed by our broad customer engagement research, we developed assumptions about our users. These assumptions would guide our intentions around our final product: who was using it, buying it, and benefiting from it.
We decided to look at the broad category of adaptive clothing through three separate assumptions — two assumption about wearers, and one assumption about caregivers. Then we created and tested a prototype for each assumption.
- Older adults crave an adaptive shoe solution → Self-Strapping Shoes
- Older adults (or caregivers) would be interested in adapting existing clothing → A Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Adapt Your Own apparel Kit
- Older adults are unable to express themselves because of functional limitations → A Draw Your Favorite Style exercise
As young designers, we were most excited by the DIY adaptive kit. We loved the idea of agency and modular design when it comes to prototyping. The DIY adaptive kit allowed older adults to maintain their personality through their existing clothing because caregivers would be able to modify their existing clothes to be easier to wear. It accomplished the goals of maintaining independence and individuality.
However, this was not what older adults and caregivers wanted. At our focus group session, we allowed older adults and caregivers to interact with our prototypes (shoe, kit, and sewing resources), and there simply wasn’t any interest. They did not have the time, skills, or resources to alter their own clothing. They were much more inclined to simply purchase new clothing. They took more interest in the adaptive clothing samples we brought in. It was evident that we had to pivot our project.
Our assumption for the DIY adaptive clothing kit was that older adults and caregivers would be interested in altering pre-existing clothes to make them easier to put on, addressing mobility issues in older adults. However, older adults and caregivers were happy to buy brand new clothing, especially if that new clothing had the “adaptive” properties already built in. They would rather be aware of adaptive clothing that is available to them. These kinds of assumptions and testing practices helped us develop and prove the efficacy of our prototypes, and keep moving in a positive direction.
Strategy #4: Share out — make your work available for others to iterate upon and improve
Finally, our team has prioritized “Share Outs,” — like this Medium article — throughout our design experience. As we have detailed above, much of our process was iterative, and thus involved failures or dead ends. Whether that was an assumption that was not proved out in our user testing, an assumption that was validated but we decided we weren’t the team to see it through, or a dead end brought on by a pandemic (the end of our original project), we never wanted our work to be in vain. Even if our product or idea isn’t going to “go to market,” we have gathered valuable insights and lo-fi prototypes that can be used as a launching point for other designers and public health practitioners.
The most obvious example is our pandemic gown playbook. As we wrapped up our gown work with the Elder Care Alliance, we were incredibly proud of the 300+ gowns that we were able to make. That said, we knew that our product and process could be not only used by other communities in need, but also had room for refinement. Publishing our playbook addresses both of these opportunities. If shared widely, it will extend the impact our efforts have beyond ECA, and if others pick it up and use it, folks can suggest edits and improvements. So please share our work, but also of course, the work that you do and the insights you uncover!”
“Even if our product or idea isn’t going to “go to market,” we have gathered valuable insights and lo-fi prototypes that can be used as a launching point for other designers and public health practitioners.”